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The vicissitudes of 2012(2)

By Douglas Anele
In this connection, I believe that the hidden forces behind Boko Haram, if they still have flickers of humanity in their being, should begin a process of critical self-examination. Whatever the hidden agenda they might have, the crucial question they must address is: is it worth all the killings, maiming, and destruction?

Of course, it is only blind faith anddogmatic belief inan irrational cause or divine command that make people persist in violence without critical reflection on the consequences of their actions.

The terrorist activities of Boko Haram will continue to test the will of Jonathan’s government in handling the security challenges of 2012, which implies that the sooner the threat is eliminated, the better for everyone. Moving away from the depressing topic of Boko Haram, let us consider some of the challenges that would characterise the year that has just begun.Without mincing words, 2012 will be a difficult year for the average Nigerian.

Definitely, political office holders will continue to expand the contour lines of their greed, whilst most Nigerians living just above the poverty line will sink below that line. Does that make me a prophet of doom? Hardly: on the contrary, being neither a prophet let alone a prophet of doom, my conclusion is based on the series of anti-people policies slated for implementation this year by the federal government.

Take the controversial issue of fuel subsidy removal: a lot of informed and not-so-informed ink has flowed on the subject. That the federal government is subsidising the price of imported petrol may not be false as some prominent Nigerians, including former minister of petroleum resources, Prof. Tam David-West, claimed, considering the fact that we are importing petroleum products paid for in dollars at a time the exchange rate of the naira vis-a-vis major international currencies is worsening.

But given the facts revealed by the recent Senate investigation into how the subsidy has been operated – the crooked manner fuel subsidy has been shared amongst oil marketers and the appalling inefficiency and corruption in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation –it is clear that the subsidy in question is basically benefitingrich cabals, including multinational oil companies that are not interested in building refineries.

Thus, although removal of fuel subsidy as envisaged by government will close the tap of huge monies flowing into the pockets of the cabals we mentioned a moment ago, it will also lead to more than a hundred percent increase in the current pump price of petrol.

Indeed, the price bandied about by overpaid and over-pampered government officials who by no means will feel the pains of the price increase is around one hundred and fifty naira per litre. I will not dwell here on what government ought to have done before contemplating abolition of fuel subsidy.

The point I want to stress which has been reiterated again and again by commentators is that the policy will trigger unprecedented inflation such that millions of Nigerians already pauperisedby over four decades of mediocre leadership will sink further into the slough of despond.

The collateral damages of the fuel subsidy removal will further depress the already stagnant economy, jeopardise realisation of the core objectives of the cumbersome Vision 20:2020, and increase social disequilibrium and anomie among the populace.

In short, the fallouts of the measure will have a lasting negative effect on the well-being of Nigerians. Government has been singing the mantra that funds saved from stoppage of fuel subsidy will be used to beef up critical sectors of our national life, especially power, transportation, education, health and agriculture.

Any Nigerian that really accepts this must be living in a cloud cuckoo-land, because Nigerian leaders have a reputation for reneging on their promises, and are financially bulimic – they have an uncontrollable and pathological appetite for primitive accumulation.

Of course, most Nigerians do not trust Jonathan’s government on this issue: if a poll is conducted anytimeanywhere in the countryan overwhelming majority of those polled will say that the money will be looted.

Therefore, Jonathan’s government has a huge credibility problem here, andit is faced with the devil’s alternative: either it continues with the subsidy, thereby funding the gross inefficiencies in the petroleum industry or it removes the subsidy and confronts the fury of Nigerians.

There is no easy solution to this dilemma.Given Jonathan’s inability to instill prudence and discipline in government spending, I am not sure he will take a decision based on the interest of poverty-stricken Nigerian masses. Another policy that will bring more hardship upon Nigerians in 2012 is the planned increase in electricity bill.

There is a saying among the Igbo that: asina oketagburummadu, ngwere akporoumuyagaaipiara ha eze. In the context of our discussion, this means that electricity supply is grossly inadequate and yet government intends to increase tariff on it.

Everyone knows that the more reasonable option is to improve electricity supply nationwide first before any tariff increase, but Nigeria is a country administered mainly by people whose sense of reasoning and capacity for selfless service have gone on sabbatical leave. Never mind the red-herring by Prof. Bath Nnaji, minister of power, that electricity supply will be subsidised for the poor for three years.

At first sight the proposal sounds good and populist, but when one thinks about it, the irresistible conclusion is that government is just flying a kite. What, from the perspective of government, is the definition of poverty? What criteria will it apply to separate the poor from the rest of the population?

Assuming that government successfully determines those that belong to the class of poor Nigerians, will the subsidy not be a convenient excuse for Power Holding Company of Nigeria to explain away poor service delivery to the rural areas, slums and ghettos inhabited by the underclass?

Anyway, subsidy or no subsidy, the point is that in 2012, Nigerians across the board will pay more for electricity without a corresponding improvement in supply, which indeed is double jeopardy.



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